Thursday, December 16, 2004

A Note From The Archives


Back when I was in law school and enrolled in a clinical class on appellate practice, one of my classmates found a case which he believed would be helpful to his client. It was a surprisingly old Michigan case, from 1928, which seemed to endorse the notion of "battered woman syndrome", even though that concept wasn't formalized until the 1970's.
Defendant shot and killed her husband in their home in Flint on February 13, 1927. She defended on the sole ground that the shooting was in self-defense. Early in the trial the court indicated that the defense would not be entertained, for the reason that there was "no overt act on the part of the deceased toward her at that particular time," and that deceased was not at that moment engaged in an assault upon her. To support the defense, evidence was offered of threats made by deceased to defendant shortly before the shooting, of assaults made by him upon her, of her physical injuries, and of his brutal and violent treatment of her for some time prior to the event in question, which offer was refused in part at least.
In essence, her defense was that earlier in the evening, without provocation, her husband had become enraged with her, striking her, choking her, and threatening to kill her. He reportedly cleaned and loaded a pistol (one of three firearms he kept in the bedroom), held it to her, and said "I got to kill you", indicating that he would do so before the morning. They went to bed around 9:00, and she stayed awake. Two or three hours later she got up, took the pistol, and started to leave to go to a neighbor's house. She claimed that as she was leaving she heard a noise which she believed to be her husband waking up, that she couldn't run because the house was locked up and there were other guns in the bedroom, so she shot and killed her husband. The autopsy report lent credence to her claim that her husband was getting up when she shot him. The Michigan Supreme Court held that the woman should have been permitted to introduce evidence of justifiable homicide, expressing
After beating defendant deceased said he would kill her before morning. It was not yet morning. He had hung the loaded pistol within reach. He had other guns and ammunition near and in the room. Defendant had suffered his violence and brutality. She knew him. Her fear would not be lessened by her apprehension of being discovered in her attempt to leave the home. Viewed from her standpoint of the time, or from any standpoint, it cannot be said as a matter of law that he had abandoned his declared purpose to kill her, nor that the circumstances were not sufficient to induce in defendant an honest and reasonable belief that she was in danger of great bodily harm or loss of life.
The professor, after first asking with a slight tone of incredulity if my classmate had noticed anything about the name of the defendant (People v Giacalone, 242 Mich 16; 217 NW 758 (1928)), which might have lent to the outcome. When my classmate looked a bit bewildered, the professor indicated that this was the Giacalone crime family, and that the reversal was not based upon an early judicial recognition of the pressures a battered spouse might take, but upon the fact that the woman was married to a leading mobster at the height of prohibition. The instructor's point was that the Court was silent as to the facts which drove its decision, and the case was viewed as an anomaly.

1 comment:

  1. Easy case make good law? ;)

    Reminds me of a comment made by an experienced Southern defense attorney--that really, whatever the law said, you needed to prove two things to get a client acquitted. That the victim needed killing, and that your client was the man for the job.

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